Friday, February 8, 2013

The Deer Hunter (1978)


“You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. A deer's gotta be taken with one shot.”

            The subject of war is loaded. Think of all the stories of war that have been told throughout history. Think of all the stories of World War II alone that have been told since it was still happening. So many men and women sacrificing their lives for their countries and their freedom. So many families and towns sacrificing their sons in the name of freedom. One war it seems not too many speak of the Vietnam War. I say “it seems” because I remember barely learning about in school and most likely because it was never covered in my academic career I do not understand why America even had to enter the conflict in the first place. What I have taken most from watching some programs about Vietnam or other movies about it is that the generation of men who fought were worse off when they came home then those who fought in World War II or Korea. The young men and women at this time were more vocal about politics than at any other time in America. They were vocal about their opposition. That is what I know most about the Vietnam War, all the opposition and the horror of what the men faced fighting it.
            When I chose to watch The Deer Hunter I had not read anything about the plot until I looked it up as the movie was starting. Had I known the plot I most likely would not have watched it but I hear about it a lot amongst the film community I follow online and from some of my film major friends.
            Three friends Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Steve have grown up together in a small coal mining town. All three have signed up to fight in Vietnam. Steve gets married the day before they are about to leave. His wedding also acts as their going away party. They all have something to lose. They do not discuss leaving even with their other friends.
            In Vietnam Steve, Nick, and Michael are captured and tortured by the Viet Cong. Their preferred method of torture is making each of the captured men play Russian Roulette. Steve has a break down waiting for when he will be called hearing the click of the guns over and over. Michael manages to kill their captors and get away with Steve and Nick. Unfortunately all three get separated.
            Nick is placed in an army hospital. He has a difficult time processing questions a doctor asks him. He has a very lost look in his eyes. Michael has been sent home. The night he gets home his friends and family are waiting for him but he tells a cab driver to keep driving and he spends the night in a motel he cannot face anyone. Steve has returned home but his wife will not tell anyone where he is. Michael eventually finds out that Steve is in a local hospital. He is missing both legs. Steve shows his friend that he has been receiving a lot of money from someone. Michael figures out that it must be Nick. He and the whole time believe that Nick has been missing. Michael goes back to Vietnam to find Nick. He tracks Nick down to a place where men play Russian Roulette and other men bet on who will die. Nick looks terribly thin, withdrawn, and angry at the world. He make Michael play him in the deadly game. Unfortunately, Nick’s life ends that night in the game.
            The movie was three hours long! I in all honesty have ADHD and my attention started to drift so between the length and my horrible attention what I have written is what I was able to get out of it.
            I watched The Deer Hunter mostly for the cast. As soon as I saw Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, and Christopher Walken on the DVD I had to check it out. Meryl Streep plays Nick’s girlfriend. She was, as always, excellent even though her part was small. Robert De Niro’s character does not say much. I liked Michael and how little he had to say. To me Michael was the audience’s eyes into the small town, the people in the small town, and to one story of the Vietnam War. In De Niro you can see Michael’s mind working, thinking about what is going on around him. Of the movies I have seen De Niro in The Deer Hunter is my favorite. Christopher Walken is an actor I am usually on the fence about. He really did not have too much to do in the movie either but his character at the end really moves you. Walken did a great job with Nick after he was rescued and did not return home. But, before that there is really nothing interesting about Walken or his character. It was cool watching these three great actors in an early role especially De Niro and Streep who went on to make incredible movies and became such acting giants.

            The Deer Hunter was not a bad movie. For its length it went along at a nice pace. The only scene that dragged to me was the wedding scene. That could have been a bit shorter. I felt terrible seeing these three men so torn up after they went through war and being captured. I always feel terrible seeing men and women come home from war broken physically and mentally. The movie was excellently filmed and acted. Of most of the war movies I have seen this one has felt the most realistic and most heartbreaking. It was not so much a story of men fighting in a war it was what the war did to them before and after they fought. We only get maybe forty-five minutes to an hour of Michael, Steve, and Nick in Vietnam. That was another aspect of the movie I liked that the war scene was not long. I do not have any plans on sitting through The Deer Hunter again in the near future but I would definitely recommend seeing it if you are a movie fan or not.